Iraq 2011: The woman who controls access to Baghdad's Green Zone is one of the most powerful Americans in…

Notes from different corners of the world.
May 10 2011 1:51 PM

Badge Wars

The woman who controls access to Baghdad's Green Zone is one of the most powerful Americans in Iraq.

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"The harassment in the inspection at the entry and exit of the Green Zone is unbearable," Samir Atwan said in Arabic. "They insult the person. After the inspection, they demand that the person opens their mobile phone and removes the battery, and they ask for two forms of identification."

Official check a badge. Click to expand image.
A guard checks a badge outside the PX at FOB Prosperity

Although the checkpoints to the Green Zone have been routinely targeted, making them some of the most dangerous in Iraq, there have been few attacks in recent years. Still, Atwan said security will improve after the Americans leave, because even if the Americans aren't controlling the checkpoints anymore, the anger is directed at them.

Salam al-Obeidi works inside the Green Zone and said he typically does not have problems getting to his job. He said U.S. forces used to harass Iraqis trying to enter, but that has gone away now that Iraqi troops guard the entrances. But he said the Iraqi troops don't necessarily make him feel safer.

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"I'm afraid of a security breach after the departure of U.S. troops," he said in Arabic. "The Iraqi troops might be too lenient."

Saraj said he aims to make it easier for Iraqis to get into the Green Zone but "not easier for the terrorists. Easier for the people who work here." He plans to do that with an aggressive screening process, he said.

The United States currently has 46,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. The troops remaining since combat forces departed last August are required to depart by the end of this year under a security agreement with the Iraqi government. That doesn't mean there will be no American soldiers left in Iraq. An unspecified number will remain to support the U.S. Embassy mission, to provide security for its activities, and to support the Office of Security Cooperation. To the consternation of U.S. military leaders in Iraq and some strategists in Washington, Iraqi leaders still have not said whether they will request that some American troops stay beyond Dec. 31, as some, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki, have hinted they might.

If the current timeline sticks, however, that means that after Jan. 1, 2012, there will be three types of badges: Department of State/Department of Defense, Office of Security Cooperation, and Government of Iraq.

After Dec. 31, 2011, anyone who does not have the new GOI badge will not be able to enter the Green Zone. The USF-I badges will no longer grant access, a point that Johanek said not enough people in Baghdad understand or are concerned about.

"It's not just the Iraqis," she said. "A lot of NGOs are going to be in for a rude awakening if they aren't part of that process. A lot of people who had enjoyed access are not getting in."

Jackie Spinner is a journalist based in the Middle East. She was a staff writer for the Washington Post for 14 years and covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She is the author of Tell Them I Didn't Cry: A Young Journalist's Story of Joy, Loss, and Survival in Iraq.

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